Big S.F. zoning changes could unlock housing opportunities in development-averse neighborhoods

By Cory Weinberg : bizjournals – excerpt

screen-shot-2015-08-11-at-24839-pm*304xx749-499-0-38San Francisco Planning Department:  The “study area” for the city’s density bonus program – the parts of this map shaded blue – includes parts of the city that sees little development because of old zoning rules that restrict the number of units that can be built on each lot.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will debate legislation that would relax height and density limits this fall to spur housing projects in neighborhoods like the Marina, Richmond, Western Addition and Sunset – where development can be a third rail.

Will they be acting as City Supervisors or as County Authorities? The County MTC plan expands Priority Development Areas into all of the Eastern Neighborhoods and moves westward. Learn all you can about the Plan Bay Area and the fight between MTC and ABAG. You can download a map and links to the Mayor’s Housing Density Bonus Plan proposal here: OBAG_SF_PDAs.

CSFN Land Use Committee is opposing the plan as it is presented.

Under a proposal by the Planning Department, developers would be able to build two stories taller than they’re allowed in some parts of the city – or get some relief on city requirements for building parking, rear yard or open space – in exchange for reserving more units for low- and middle-income residents.

The so-called density bonus program was designed to unlock housing possibilities on underused sites in parts of the city that restrict the number of units that can be built by the size of the property, said Kearstin Dischinger of the Planning Department…

Bonus points
The city is proposing to allow developers access to density bonuses, a commonly used tactic across the country to allow the construction of more units in order to encourage developers to pay for affordable housing without public subsidies…

San Francisco would also allow developers to take advantage of a local density bonus, which would give both an extra two stories in height and unlimited density within that volume, with a mix of unit sizes. The city would give those perks in exchange for developers reserving 18 percent of units for moderate-income residents, as well as 12 percent of the units for low-income residents…

“Any one thing you look at, it’s too small to make a difference,” said Gabriel Metcalf, president of the public policy think tank SPUR. “The hope is that, with part of a broader package, you start to change the housing market.”
The program could get outcry from neighborhood groups in neighborhoods like the Sunset, Richmond or northeastern part of the city. During Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration, neighborhood groups rose up against a Planning Department proposal “that would have increased density and removed parking along many major commercial strips well served by public transit,” according to the San Francisco Public Press.

Planning Department chief John Rahaim also said earlier this year that the city knows those kinds of political concerns are crucial. He said that while the city needs more equally dispersed housing, “building density just for the sake of density isn’t the answer. We need to be concerned about quality of life and living space.”

Advocates on the Board of Supervisors’ progressive coalition could also see issues with the program.

Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations who advises some supervisors on development issues, said the city should be more ambitious in asking for affordable housing from developers instead of falling in line with the state ruling’s bare minimum.

“We are concerned they will end up being pressured by market rate developers into giving away the farm for minimal public benefit return,” Cohen said.

Metcalf said the measure would likely pass the board and be signed by the mayor, but that doesn’t mean individual housing projects won’t face opposition in outer neighborhoods at the Planning Commission or through litigation.
“There’s nothing in this reform that will make it any easier to get permission to build housing,” he said… (more)


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